… All you understand from a conversation is when and where to show up, and then when you do show up you find yourself alone on a school bus with students you don’t know heading to a village that you didn’t really hear the name of to maybe see a waterfall (maybe) and you don’t know how you will get home. And then you have a good time so you go back a couple days later only to have an even more interesting experience. Here’s the story:
My counterpart is on vacation for 3 weeks. I had thought I would get a key to my office, but somehow that never happened. It’s not really an issue because the only thing that would happen if I went to my office alone would be that I would have to tell all the women who come in to get information that they should come back when the nurse is back from vacation. Even so, I made an appearance in the hallways most days. One day, a doctor took me into her office and told me to come back at 11:30 on Thursday. She also said something about amazing, big water. That was all I got out of a 5-minute conversation. It was only Monday and I had only been at work for 15 minutes, but the conversation seemed pretty final so I didn’t really go into the office much that week.
We’re determined to explore every bit of Kyrgyzstan while we’re here so we headed down to Toktogul to squeeze in one last backpacking trip before the snow comes. Getting to Toktogul from our home in Balykchy requires a trip through Bishkek and we spent the night there to break up the long journey. In the morning, we headed to the taxi stand to locate a taxi. Normally we would take a marshrutka between cities but apparently due to a large number of accidents on the bad mountain roads they are no longer allowed. We found a Toktogul taxi driver who told us he’d be leaving soon, just needed two more passengers… maybe 30 minutes. An hour later the two additional passengers were sitting in the car but the driver was just strolling around and didn’t seem to be in a hurry. Another 30 minutes went by and we became increasingly aggravated as another passenger had taken a seat but still we waited. Finally enough passengers showed up for the taxi to fill and we took off, only to stop after 15 minutes so the ladies could spend 15 minutes buying bread. Just double the time you think you need to get anywhere in this country.
An hour later we were out of the city to a part of the country we hadn’t seen before. Turning towards the mountains we drove up and came to a toll booth, after this the road became twisty and climbed steadily. I struggled to make out the scenery through the limo-tint glass as the road kept climbing the mountains. I turned on my phone to see we reached 10,200’ at the top of the pass as we entered a very long and narrow tunnel. We entered the tunnel under sunny skies but 3 or 4 minutes later we popped out and into winter. Snow was falling and covered the roadway. We stopped here for a rest stop, it felt 30 degrees colder than when we left Bishkek. Heading down the mountain we reached a high plateau, technically in Talas Oblast, that seemed beautiful but I could barely see through the window. The next two hours were mostly uneventful except for the amusing incidents where the car is forced to slow and honk its way through herds of sheep moving down the road.